One question we are often asked as ballet teachers is “When is it appropriate for my daughter to go on pointe?”
Dancing on pointe is one of the most exciting achievements that an intermediate ballet student looks forward to - so naturally, there is a lot of anticipation among students and parents for the day when students are allowed to begin dancing on pointe! However, putting a dancer on pointe too young or too soon can cause lasting damage to their feet and ankles. So when is the best time for a dancer to begin dancing on pointe?
Though this may not be exactly what you wanted to hear, there is not a simple answer to this question! There are many, many factors that need to be taken into careful consideration when determining the readiness of a dancer for pointe work. For instance, many parents ask if there is certain age when students are allowed to begin dancing on pointe. Age does certainly play a role; however, because children develop at different rates and have varying amounts of training at a particular age, it is not appropriate for all dancers to begin at the same age. Generally, dancers begin pointe training between ages 11-14.
Perhaps the most crucial factor in determining if a dancer is ready to begin pointe work is strength and flexibility coupled with solid technical training in classical ballet. In The Pointe Book (a wonderful resource if you are looking for more information by the way!), Barringer and Schlesinger write,
“The real pointe is the foot itself and not the shoe, which is only a covering. To meet the unique demands of pointe dancing, the foot has to be strong, supple, and as sensitive as the hand.”
Before a dancer can begin working on pointe, her ankle must gain enough flexibility to stand upright on pointe. Likewise, the foot and ankle must gain considerable strength in order to safely initiate the pointe work. At many schools, including our own here at Ballet 5:8, students are required to attend a “pre-pointe” class for at least a year before applying to begin pointe. The focus of this class is to prepare the young dancer for pointe by executing specific exercises that increase crucial strength and flexibility of the foot and ankle.
A dancer must also participate in regular training and have a good sense of their technique before starting their work on pointe. In Anatomy and Ballet, Celia Sparger writes
“The ability to do pointe work is the end result of slow and gradual training of the whole body, back, hips, thighs, legs, feet, general coordination of movement, and the placing of the body, so that weight is lifted upwards off the feet . . .”
Good technique gained from attending regular classes is so crucial for dancers wanting to advance to pointe work! Technique class trains a dancers body how to do the steps correctly, so that their body is already strong and prepared to do the same movements on pointe.
At Ballet 5:8 School of the Arts, we strongly believe in preparing our dancers and making sure that each student begins their pointe training at an appropriate time for that individual. Along with our pre-pointe class, dancers must pass a pre-pointe test, which assesses their overall strength, flexibility, and technique. If dancers haven't fully developed the needed proficiencies to safely begin pointe work, their instructor will recommend taking the pre-pointe class for another year.
The wonderful news is that if a dancer does have good ankle flexibility, over all strength and a good understanding of ballet technique, the transition to working on pointe can be a safe and exciting one! Though it is sometimes difficult for dancers to wait until they are fully ready to begin training on pointe, the wait is well worth the positive experience it leads to.
Mrs. Cumpston serves at the Ballet Mistress for the Ballet 5:8 professional company and is the Director of Residency Programs for Ballet 5:8 School of the Arts.